Category Archives: Movies

Ten things I hate about Star Trek: The Next Generation


I posted recently about how TNG is my all-time favourite TV show. They say you don’t know something well enough if there aren’t a few things you hate about it. I think the quote I heard was originally referring to programming languages, but it probably applies to lots of things. Here are some pet peeves about TNG, in no particular order.

I’ve excluded the one that bugs everybody: how every species looks like humans with different ears or a modified nose or forehead. That’s explained by the episode The Chase: an ancient humanoid species seeded the galaxy with their own DNA and so many species started off the same and evolved slightly differently over time. Obviously.

Note that some of these apply to other Star Trek shows, like Deep Space Nine or Voyager, and the movies as well. #1 even occurred in the very first episode of Star Trek: Discovery.

1. Radiation sickness

They seem to treat radiation like something that builds up in your body, with no ill effects, for some predetermined (and precise) period of time and then suddenly kills you. Doctor Crusher or the computer will call out “four minutes until fatal radiation exposure”, but everyone is perfectly fine. In reality, of course, it’s gradual and nobody can predict with that level of accuracy when the dosage becomes fatal. But if you’re four minutes away from lethal exposure, you should already be very sick. At least in Discovery, the person did actually get sick, but on one episode of TNG, the entire crew were minutes away from lethal radiation exposure, then managed to get away from the radiation source in time, and nobody got sick.

2. Data and the computer don’t interface well

In a few episodes, Commander Data sits down at a keyboard and types impossibly fast, or audibly tells the computer to do something. Why? Surely wireless technology in the 24th century is good enough that he can communicate with the main computer much faster than any tactile or vocal interface.

Tell me again why our ship's counsellor has a seat on the bridge

3. Infinite power

Everything that can be done electronically is done electronically. You don’t push a door open, you either walk up to it and it opens, or if it’s a private door (i.e. to someone’s quarters), you press a button and it opens. You don’t flip a switch to turn lights on, you tell the computer to do it. In Star Trek: First Contact, Lily notices that the big window she’s looking through has no glass and Picard tells her it’s a force field. Why wouldn’t you use glass (or clear plastic or “transpari-steel” or whatever) rather than require constant power just to keep the room from depressurizing? (I guess there was a retractable cover which would likely be closed most of the time, but still.) I would hate to be in that room if there was a power failure.

One of the best examples of this is the holodeck. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to spend time in one of these, and they serve a useful purpose in many episodes. I don’t even have a problem with their recreational uses. And if you’re stuck for subject matter, you can write a whole episode around it. But they described a holodeck as something that not only uses force fields and holograms to simulate things but in some cases also converts energy directly to matter. This would require an unbelievable amount of energy. You know, E=mc2 and all that, right? In some episodes (more so on Star Trek: Voyager but on TNG as well), the ship is low on power but the holodecks are still working. Those should be the first things to get shut down if you’re rationing power.

Speaking of the holodeck, I have some questions on how it works. People can walk on the holodeck for long periods of time, and they explain it by saying that the holodeck adjusts the force fields to make them work like treadmills so people feel like they’re constantly walking. But what if two people walk in different directions? Say Troi and Riker enter the holodeck and simulate a football field. Troi walks to one end zone and Riker the other. How does the holodeck make each look smaller to the other when they’re not actually 100 yards apart? If Troi shouts at the top of her voice, how does the holodeck make it so that Riker – who is physically separated from her by at most the width of the room – hears her as if she were 100 yards away? There have been episodes where someone walks into the holodeck looking for someone and shouts their name several times to try and find them. Knowing the actual size of the room they’re in, how is that possible?

4. The transporter

There have been a few episodes where someone’s DNA was modified, usually through a transporter accident, and the person experienced immediate changes. Even worse, they later used the transporter to restore their DNA and solve the problem. In one case, they used the transporter to restore Dr. Pulaski to an earlier version of herself after exposure to a virus or something caused premature aging. She was totally fine afterwards. DNA is a molecule that resides within each and every cell of any living being. Yes, it’s responsible for determining many of your characteristics from height and hair colour to how susceptible you are to various diseases. But it’s not something you can tweak with immediate effects. And if they could use the transporter to “beam” Dr. Pulaski younger, why would anyone ever age – or suffer any disease at all? They could just use the transporter to revert them back to before they had the disease.

5. Data and the crew don’t interface well

In the first season of TNG, Data seems like a naïve but very smart child. He knows facts and can calculate things but doesn’t know much about human behaviour. Over the next few years, he learns a lot and becomes less awkward. But as of season one, he’s already been in Starfleet for over twenty years. Does it make sense that after that long, he’s still that naïve? Does it makes sense that he learns more about people in the next 3-4 years than he had in the previous 20? After two decades in Starfleet, he still thinks “how long until we reach the starbase?” requires an answer including fractions of a second?

6. Nebulae

In a number of episodes, the Enterprise enters a nebula, which is a large cloud of interstellar dust. Each nebula has a distinct border and once inside, sensors and visibility are somewhat blocked (completely, partially, or not at all, depending on what the plot requires), similar to a plane flying through a cloud. In reality, a nebula is indeed a cloud of dust but in astronomical terms, “dust” is pretty much anything bigger than a molecule. Large collections of dust, usually thousands or millions of light-years wide, can be seen from great distances because of the way the particles affect the light passing through them, but up close, they’re nothing like a cloud. You could be in the middle of a nebula and not know it. They aren’t anywhere near as thick and soupy as portrayed in the Star Trek universe.

7. Gravity

Note: This isn’t specific to TNG by any stretch. It shows up in just about every other sci-fi movie and show as well – Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who, etc.

All of the planets and ships (even the non-human ships) the crew visits have exactly the same gravity. Even the smallest shuttlecraft have artificial gravity generators. The artificial gravity generators never fail (except in Star Trek VI) – even when life support is failing and everyone is struggling for breath, artificial gravity is still working perfectly. I totally understand why they do this – filming anything with a different level of gravity would be difficult, expensive, or both – but it’s still a bit predictable.

8. Measurements of time and distance

Language is similar to the gravity issue: every species speaks English. On TNG, that’s mostly explained away by the universal translator, which also never fails. But every species also uses Earth-specific units for time and distance. A light-year is a measure of distance based on how long it takes Earth to go around its sun. A parsec is also Earth-specific, as are measurements of time like days and hours. Why would Romulans or Ferengi use them? Sometimes an alien refers to “one of your hours” or “an Earth day” or something but they never say “you have one of our shmlergs to respond”, leaving the Enterprise crew to find out how long a shmlerg is. However, Klingons have used a unit of distance called, I believe, a “kellicam”.

9. Alien species and stereotypes

The Ferengi are described as a greedy species who are only interested in acquiring wealth. The Klingons are only concerned with honour and being a warrior. Betazoids are telepathic and are usually the peacemakers and diplomats. But how did any of these species advance to where they are without having a wide range of individuals? The Klingons have cloaking technology and warp drive, so there must be Klingon scientists and engineers. But if there is no honour in dying of old age even after having been a warrior all your life (a warrior must die in battle), how is there honour in studying warp field theory? How does the Ferengi chain of command function if it’s widely known that every officer can be bought (and according to their culture, should be able to be bought)  for the right amount of profit?

10. Drama

People can just tap their badges and talk to anyone, but sometimes they’re not very helpful. Riker calls Picard from engineering or cargo bay 2 or wherever because something odd is happening. Picard asks what’s going on and Riker just says “I think you should see this for yourself”. Picard says “on my way” and heads down, not having the slightest idea what he’s in for. He can’t think about the situation on the way down or even know whether he needs to go down at all. His real answer should be “drop the dramatics and Just tell me what the hell is happening.”

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Make it so


This past week was the thirtieth anniversary of the debut of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which probably takes the prize as my favourite TV series of all time (sorry Firefly). I was in first-year university at the time (wow, does that ever make me feel old), and it was a big deal for us; the TV room on the North E floor of Village Two was quite full as we were all introduced to Captain Picard, Riker, Data, Geordi, and the rest of the gang. I remember not liking the shape of the Enterprise at first: the saucer was far too big. After a while though, I got used to it and now it’s the quintessential spaceship.

I was never a big Star Trek (the original series) guy, and to this day I have only seen a few episodes. I did like the movies though, so I was excited about the debut of TNG. Thinking back, it was a big part of my university years. Throughout my time at Waterloo, TNG was must-see TV as often as it was on. My roommates and I would watch it every night at dinner; one benefit of it being in syndication from the get-go was that you could see reruns several times a day if you looked, even only a couple of years into the show’s run. I worked for Microsoft in Redmond, Washington for four months, and a bunch of us got together on Sunday nights to watch TNG.

The gang

After I graduated, I worked at Corel in Ottawa for a year, and one of my co-workers had one of them thar newfangled satellite dishes. I don’t know how it’s done now, but at the time the networks would broadcast shows over satellite in advance (on Thursday, if memory serves) to the local stations, who would record it and then re-broadcast it later (Sunday night). My co-worker would record it from the satellite and then on Friday at lunch, we’d watch it in one of the big presentation rooms at Corel. This was before big-screen TVs, but we had a “video wall” which consisted of 25 TVs in a 5×5 array, and they all collectively acted like a single screen. It was then that I really discovered the background ship noise during the show – the presentation room also had a “bass cannon”, which was a huge horizontal cylindrical subwoofer which must have been six feet long. This was also my first exposure to surround sound, and because we had the special satellite feed, there was a sound check track at the beginning. But it wasn’t just beeps or some guy talking to separate the channels: they had gotten Michael Dorn to do it in his Worf voice. Imagine Worf’s deep silky smooth voice saying: “THIS is the left channel. THIS is the right channel. Center. And surround.” At the time, “surround” was a single channel which had not yet been split into left and right. I guess this was 4.1 surround.

When the series ended in 1994, I was at the University of Western Ontario doing my master’s degree. Gail and I watched the series finale (and a few other episodes) at the Grad Club in Middlesex College.

TNG was the first series I knew of to appear on DVD, and I bought every season as it was released – at about $100-120 per season. I’ve gone through all seven seasons several times, and my kids have been through at least twice as well.

At the time, I’m sure I thought every episode was awesome but it wasn’t until I had seen lots of reruns that I started to recognize the really good ones from the not-so-good ones. Honestly, a number of episodes in the first season really weren’t very good, but the quality picked up in season two. Dr. Pulaski replaced Dr. Crusher in the second season; I wasn’t a fan of Dr. Pulaski and it turned out neither was anyone else.

Season three is when the series really started to get good, and the the next four seasons were excellent. The characters had been fleshed out enough that there were very few occasions when one of the main characters would do or say something that made us think “that’s out of character”. The stories were usually well thought out and many episodes had two storylines: one technical and one personal. The technical stories were sometimes solved through “techno-babble” (aha, they reversed the polarity of the dilithium matrix and reconfigured the main deflector to send a neutrino pulse. Good thinking) but the personal ones never were. I thought the quality began to go downhill a bit in season seven, so perhaps they ended the series at just the right time.

The EnterpriseMy favourite episodes by season:

  1. 11001001 (the one with the Bynars), Where No One Has Gone Before
  2. Loud as a Whisper, Peak Performance, The Royale, The Measure of a Man
  3. The Enemy, The Vengeance Factor, The Survivors, Captain’s Holiday, Yesterday’s Enterprise, The Offspring, The Best of Both Worlds
  4. Remember Me, Future Imperfect, Clues, Redemption
  5. Darmok, Disaster, Conundrum, Cause and Effect (very clever), I Borg, Time’s Arrow, The Inner Light
  6. Rascals, Chain of Command, Ship in a Bottle, Tapestry, Starship Mine, Frame of Mind, Timescape, Descent
  7. Gambit, Parallels, All Good Things…

The Inner Light is regarded by many as one of the best TNG episodes, and I must concur. The story was thought-provoking and rather sad, and Patrick Stewart was outstanding. I still tear up a little at the end when Picard realizes the purpose of the probe they’re launching.

The series was followed by four TNG-cast movies, which oddly followed the same pattern as the previous six original-cast movies: the even-numbered ones were much better than the odd-numbered ones. Generations wasn’t bad but had some big plot holes. First Contact was excellent. Insurrection… I barely remember. Nemesis was pretty good and featured a young Tom Hardy (Bane without the bulk) as the bad guy.

There were a few things I didn’t like about the show, but I think I’ll leave that for another article. For now, I’ll just stick with “It’s the best show ever” and leave it at that. If you haven’t watched the episodes I listed above, you should head over to Netflix and check them out. Make it so.

A page from the diary of Severus Snape


Sept 1

The day I have been dreading for ten years has finally arrived. In a few hours, the students will be arriving on the Hogwarts Express and Harry Potter will be among them. Not a day has gone by since that night that I haven’t thought of Lily, and now her son will be one of my students. I can only hope he’s more like his mother than the swine who was his father because I swear, if he comes in here looking like James…

I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard on the boy; after all it’s not his fault who his father was. And I shouldn’t really blame him for Lily’s death even though she died protecting him. But though I haven’t seen the boy since that night, anger still wells up inside me whenever I think about him. So many “what ifs” – what if he had been born a month earlier or later? Then perhaps the prophesy might have led the Dark Lord to the Longbottom boy or someone else. What if he hadn’t been born at all? What if Sybil hadn’t made the prophecy in the first place? What if Sirius Black hadn’t betrayed Lily?

I imagine I have spent far too much time over the last ten years thinking about these things, but it’s so hard to let it go. Anyway, I will finally meet him later today, and then the real work begins. I have to protect him without looking like I’m protecting him. And if the Dark Lord ever returns, my job gets infinitely harder. I may even have to convince him and everyone else that I hate the boy. But he’s Lily’s son, is it even possible that I could hate him?

Sept 2

I hate him.

I saw him at the feast last night and he looks exactly like James. The same round glasses, the same wild hair. At one point, I could swear I even saw the same smug look on his face when he looked at me.

Snape

This is going to be a nightmare. I have to spend the next seven years, maybe longer, maybe the rest of my life, protecting this boy – the child of the woman who I loved more than anything and the man I hated more than anything. As long as he’s at Hogwarts, I have to make sure no harm comes to this boy who reminds me so much of James that I want to give him the old sectumsempra myself. The first potions class is tomorrow, so I guess we’ll see how smart he is then. Doesn’t matter though. Even if I can’t stand the sight of him, I have to protect him, for Lily’s sake.

Thankfully, there are two things about him that remind me that he’s not James. First, the scar on his forehead. It’s a reminder of what happened ten years ago and what he lost. What I lost.

Second, the eyes. He has Lily’s eyes.

Sept 3

Potions classes began for the first-years today. I gave the Potter boy (I almost want to call him the Evans boy so I can remove James from this whole thing, but it’s far too late for that now. Everyone knows him as Potter) the opportunity to impress us all with his knowledge of potions, but he wasn’t up to the task. First off, he started scribbling as I was talking, and then when I asked him some fairly basic questions (about wolfsbane and bezoars and stuff like that), he had no idea. Truth be told, most of the class probably wouldn’t have known most of that stuff (except for that awful Granger girl), but still. If he’s the “chosen one”, shouldn’t he be just a little better than most? This kid has the best chance of defeating the Dark Lord? Really?

Professor Quirrell is a bit of an odd fellow. First he grabs my job as Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. That nervous stuttering little man is supposed to teach the students how defend themselves against the most evil forms of magic there are? And a turban? What the hell? He’s been even more odd this year so I’ll have to keep an eye on him.

But it’s not just his weird behaviour, there’s something more. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I sense something. A presence I have not felt since…

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (SPOILERY review)


WARNING: There are spoilers galore here. If you haven’t seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet, you should just stop reading now. Here’s some newlines for those reading on Facebook. Update: The newlines didn’t work so I removed them.

OK, that should do it. Now on with the review.

Here’s a story. Tell me what movie it describes:

We start on a desert planet, where a droid that can only speak in beeps and whistles and yet exudes personality crashes from an orbiting ship. Our hero (who is strong with the Force but doesn’t know it) saves the droid from a small creature who wants it for parts and finds that the droid is trying to find its master, and the hero agrees to help. It turns out that the droid is carrying some very important information that needs to be taken to the leaders of a group of freedom fighters.

The hero meets up with an older man who acts as a father figure. We travel to a bar that features many individuals from numerous species. Eventually we make our way (in the Millennium Falcon) to the villain’s “lair”, which is actually a huge weapon that contains immense destructive power. It’s shown destroying entire planets. The older man and a younger man attempt to rescue the girl who’s been taken prisoner. She’s actually a strong character, not at all the “helpless damsel in distress”. They rescue her but the older man is killed by the lead villain, a man dressed all in black who wears a mask. He is strong with the Force but has turned to the Dark Side and, it turns out, has a family relation with one of the heroes. It also turns out that the lead villain is not actually in charge; he’s the servant of another, who appears as a huge hologram.

The younger man and the girl escape and rejoin the freedom fighters, and then return to destroy the enemy weapon with their X-Wing fighters. The lead villain survives.

Was it The Force Awakens? Or was it Star Wars (A New Hope) with a couple of things from The Empire Strikes Back mixed in? The answer is yes.

Story

When the prequel trilogy was being written, it seems that Lucas thought “Let’s take the Star Wars universe and add a story that’s nothing like the first three!”. This was a decent idea, but wasn’t terribly well done. Personally, I didn’t hate the prequels as many others did, but there was certainly room for improvement. Jar Jar Binks was worse than useless. Darth Maul was a very cool-looking villain but wasn’t as scary or evil as Vader. Vader was introduced as a leader and it wasn’t until The Empire Strikes Back that you found that he wasn’t actually in charge. The way that was done simply made the Emperor’s power that much more impressive – he can even control Vader! In The Phantom Menace, Darth Maul was introduced as the apprentice so you never thought of him as being as powerful – Maul was essentially a hit-man. Natalie Portman was good and Hayden Christensen was OK (at best) but I didn’t find the chemistry between them was really there, which was unfortunate since their deep passionate love for each other was the supposed reason for Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side. The dialogue was also terrible which didn’t help matters.

The Force Awakens

When writing Episode 7, it seems that J.J. Abrams thought “Let’s take the Star Wars universe and add a story JUST like the first three!” While I don’t think this strategy would have worked for the prequels, it did work for this one. There were a couple of scenes that were a little predictable for this reason, but because I’ve watched the original trilogy so many times over the years, it almost seemed like familiarity rather than predictability. It wasn’t that the writing was lazy so you could tell what was going to happen. The writing was good enough that you knew what was going to happen because it was entirely consistent with what you would expect.

At least, part of me believes that. There is a part of me that thinks it is lazy, since they didn’t have to come up with a story, just adapt one. I haven’t decided which part of me I believe.

Having said that, I do agree with some of this review, particularly when talking about the “How do we destroy the Starkiller planet?” scene. The First Order modifies a planet to be able to absorb the entire mass of a star and then use it as a weapon. First of all, not possible. But suspending our disbelief, this kind of terraforming would be centuries of work, and the rebels resistance figures out how to destroy it in about 3 minutes. If that one building is housing the only thing holding the planet together, perhaps it should have been more heavily fortified, or buried a mile underground?

Characters

Rey is a strong lead and given how masculine the original trilogy was (other than Leia, there were only 3-4 female characters who actually spoke and nobody for more than 30 seconds), I think it’s great that they chose a female lead. I also loved how Finn tried to rush to her rescue when he first met her only to find that she was perfectly capable of handling the situation herself. Her mysterious background was hinted at a few times – who were her parents? Is she Han Solo’s daughter? Doesn’t seem like it. Is she Luke’s daughter? Probably not – this would mean that Luke had fallen in love and had a child at some point, and as a Jedi he’s not supposed to do that. Given what happened to his dad when he fell in love, this sounds like a rule that Luke wouldn’t be likely to break. Personally, I hope she’s the daughter of nobody we know. Not everyone who’s really strong in the Force has to be related to the Skywalkers.

Rey & Finn

Finn is an interesting character and while I like him, he’s one of the biggest mysteries of the film. He’s been training to be a stormtrooper for almost his entire life. During that time (15 years? 20 years?), I can’t imagine the brainwashing that would have to be part of their training in order for them to do what they do. When your superior tells you to murder an entire village of innocent civilians or help operate a weapon that’s going to destroy an entire (inhabited) planet and you do it without hesitation or remorse, that’s some strong mind control. So how did Finn escape it? Thousands upon thousands (if not millions) of stormtroopers are under the complete control of the Empire / First Order, and yet Finn simply says “Nah, don’t think so” and escapes it? Nah, don’t think so.

Poe is a talented-bordering-on-cocky pilot who’s no relation to Han Solo but let’s face it, he’s as much the Han Solo of this movie as Han Solo is.

Kylo Ren is a villain who is a bit of a mystery himself. We know his parentage from fairly early on but we don’t know how old he is until Rey gets him to take his helmet off and we find that he’s not much more than a kid who looks like a young Severus Snape. He’s strong with the Force but obviously not that strong, since the untrained Rey is able to see into his mind while he’s trying to look into hers. He’s also not that skilled with a lightsaber since both Rey (still untrained) and Finn (the Star Wars equivalent of a Muggle) are both able to hold their own in lightsaber battles with him. You could even argue that Rey beat him. Yet he’s been able to become one of the top people in the First Order. During his conversation with Han Solo, it looks as if he’s going to give up the Dark Side and go home with his dad. I admit I didn’t foresee what was about to happen (strong am I with the Force, but not that strong) and so I was a bit disappointed that turning him back to good was this easy. Of course, the thing he had to do but wasn’t sure he was strong enough turned out to be something else, and he was strong enough. Han Solo’s death, while something I didn’t see coming and something I’m still not particularly happy about, was absolutely necessary in the development of Kylo Ren as a villain.

Harrison Ford nailed Han Solo, which is pretty impressive after 30+ years. Chewbacca was Chewbacca. Maz was Yoda with English lessons. Mark Hamill had second billing and was in the movie for maybe a minute and didn’t speak. Marlon Brando is impressed.

Unfortunately, not all of the characters were that effective. The Supreme Leader was too comic book-y as a non-human hologram. C-3P0 was entirely comic relief and R2-D2 was the deus ex machina – we need the rest of the map and R2 just happens to have it, and just happens to wake up at just the right time after years (?) of sitting in “low power mode”. General Phasma was supposed to be the leader of the stormtroopers but the only difference between her and any other stormtrooper was the fancy uniform.

Other

Not only was much of the story similar to Episode IV, there were a number of spoken lines from the original trilogy repeated in this one. Obviously the biggest were “I have a bad feeling about this” and “May the Force be with you”; inclusion of those was required though I’m surprised the latter was only used once. But there were a few throwaway ones as well, ones that wouldn’t have been noticed if you didn’t realize it was a repeated line but are very cool if you do. While on the Starkiller planet, you can hear a stormtrooper in the background say something like “We think they might be splitting up” which is a direct quote from a stormtrooper in a similar situation in A New Hope. Leia’s claim that “There is still light in him” was another, though I thought that was too similar to Luke telling her that there is still good in Vader. A good one was Maz talking to Rey, and telling her “Find your friend”, reminiscent of when Yoda offered to do help Luke do just that on Dagobah. The next line from The Empire Strikes Back is “I’m not looking for a friend, I’m looking for a Jedi Master!” which is accurate in both movies.

Question: Where did Maz get Luke’s light saber from? His first one fell into the clouds on Bespin when Vader cut off his hand. His second one (that he built himself), he threw away once he cut off Vader’s hand. (Aside: Nobody’s limbs were removed in this one. Odd.) I suppose he could have grabbed it again once Vader killed the Emperor but Maz specifically says that it belonged both to Luke and Anakin / Vader so it must have been the one from Bespin. She also said that how she got it was a “story for another time”, so hopefully that other time occurs in Episode VIII or IX.

Had Han really never used Chewie’s crossbow until now? After at least 30 years together?


I guess I can’t give the movie an A++++ since there were some issues with it. But it was fun, it was exciting, it was funny, it was well written (far more than the prequel trilogy), the bad guy was sufficiently bad, and it was reminiscent of the original trilogy. Everything you’d want from a Star Wars movie.

Only a little over 500 days until Episode VIII comes out!

Spending New Years with Harry, Captain Jack Sparrow, and the Hulk


For the sixth straight year, Gail, the boys, and I were homebodies on New Years Eve. And it was awesome.

Friends of ours have New Years parties every year and we’re always invited. We used to go and always had fun, but they all live over an hour from us. We ended up driving home after midnight and so the boys didn’t get to bed until 1:30-2:00am. They’re 11 and 14 now so that isn’t really a big deal anymore, but when they were 6 and 9 it threw their sleep patterns off for days.

Five years ago (this would have been 2008-2009), we decided to skip the party and have a Harry Potter movie marathon (all 5 of them at the time) instead – we’d start in the afternoon of New Years Eve, watch HP movies until bedtime, then continue the next morning. Part of the fun of this event for the boys was staying up until midnight, although Ryan was unsuccessful in that endeavour. This picture was taken December 31, 2009 at 11:59 pm:

Happy New Year!

On a bit of a whim, Gail decided to make Harry Potter-themed treats for the occasion. She made some kind of fruit punch and called it “pumpkin juice”, and cut up fruits into unusual shapes and called it a “herbology experiment”. She also made “cauldron cakes”, which were two-bite brownies covered in melted chocolate, a few mini-marshmallows, and a licorice handle:

Cauldron cakes

and the boys helped make magic wands – Twizzlers dipped in white chocolate and covered in star-shaped sprinkles:

Wands

The boys loved this, and the four of us had a lot of fun with it.

The next year, the boys asked weeks before New Years if we were going to do it again. We decided to make it a tradition, but pick a different movie series each time. The second time it was Star Trek, though we didn’t watch all of the movies. I think we started with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, then Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (with the whales), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, then Star Trek: Generations and finally the reboot of Star Trek (with Chris Pine). I would have added Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in there too, but Nicky was only 7 and Ryan 10, and I knew the scene with the bug-thing going into (and then coming out of) Chekov’s ear would freak them out. Our food selection that year included gagh (made from lo mein noodles), targ (chicken drumsticks), and Romulan ale (blue Gatorade). Inexplicably, we seem to have no pictures from this year.

For year 3 (Dec 31, 2010-Jan 1, 2011) we chose the Back to the Future series, and dined on burgers, fries, shakes, and sundaes (like in a 50’s diner), futuristic pancakes and fruit (the “food from the future” thing was tough, so Gail made pancakes in weird shapes and we bought some unusual fruits like starfruit and dragon fruit), and an old west lunch of wieners and beans.

Shakes and sundaes

The next year it was Pirates of the Carribbean, and Gail expanded things a little. Each of us had a name tag; we were Cap’n Dan Bloodbucket, “Sharkbait” Hubert Bones, Cap’n Isaac Slasher, and Eye-Gougin’ Alena Jones. We set up a scavenger hunt for the boys with pirate-themed clues, and their treasure at the end was a bag of “gold” (chocolate coins). We can’t remember the details of the food we prepared that year, but it definitely included some tropical fruits (pineapple and coconut), and apples for Captain Barbossa. I think we drank iced tea and called it rum. And once again, no pictures. I have no idea how that happened.

Last year (starting 2013) we picked the Indiana Jones series, though Gail thankfully skipped the eyeball soup and chilled monkey brains. Some of our food choices this year were Sallah’s salad (made with couscous), “snake on a stick” (chicken skewers), spicy cobra eyes (some kind of spicy chocolate covered cranberries), monkey toes (marshmallow candies), and to drink, the blood of Kali (pink lemonade). We all got name tags this year as well – I was Henry Jones Sr., Ryan was Mutt Williams, Nicky was Short Round, and Gail was Marion Ravenwood.

Snake on a stick Monkey toes Spicy cobra eyes

To welcome 2014, we picked a Superhero theme. The Avengers is one of our favourite movies, so we could easily have just chosen The Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and The Avengers, but Gail decided to mix things up a little. We started with The Incredibles. For dinner on New Year’s Eve we had super “hero” sandwiches, Elastigirl’s twisty salad (pasta salad made with rotini), Violet’s disappearing salad (Gail’s broccoli salad which we all love, hence “disappearing”), Cracker Jack-Jack (heh), and Underminer’s dirt cups (pudding with crushed Oreo “dirt” and gummy worms) for dessert.

Twisty salad and super heros

Our next screening was Man of Steel, which none of us had seen. Coincidentally, the movie ended around 11:50pm, so we watched Dick Clark some Times Square show (starring a bunch of people I didn’t know – what a drag it is getting old) until the ball dropped.

Have you ever tried shwarma? There's a shwarma joint about two blocks from here. I don't know what it is, but I wanna try it.The next morning, we continued our super-hero extravaganza with Spider Man (the one with Tobey Maguire), then had lunch with the Avengers. Gail had a lot of fun with this one. There was Iron Man’s chicken shwarma, Hulk’s spinach dip, Thor’s Hammer apps (cubes of cheese, pepperoni, and kielbasa with pretzel sticks as the handles), Black Widow’s spider bites (Oreos with four pieces of black licorice sticking out each side), Hawkeye wings, and Captain America’s power drink (cranberry juice, Sprite, and blue Gatorade layered in a glass).

I burned Hawkeye's wings a little.

Our final movie of the event was Green Lantern, and we went all green on this one. Green plates, cups, napkins, and cutlery, as well as green apples, grapes, and melon, and gummy frogs and sour green gummy… things.

If you know any of the four of us personally, you may wonder why we haven’t done the most obvious movie series for us to tackle: Star Wars. The answer is the food. What food do you see people eating in the Star Wars movies? There’s not much in the original trilogy (Aunt Beru’s blue milk is one possibility). Anakin, Qui-Gon, Jar Jar, and Shmi sit down to dinner in The Phantom Menace, but I don’t remember what they ate. We could always make stuff up though – a quick Google search shows things like Vader’s taters or Vader’s veggies, Yoda Soda and Qui-Gon Jinn-ger ale, Han Solo’s Rolos, light sabers (pretzel sticks with blue or red coloured icing), and Wookie’s cookies. Maybe we could revisit the chicken drumsticks from the Star Trek year and have “roasted Ewok” or something.

So what’s on the agenda for next year? We haven’t decided yet. Maybe it will be Star Wars, or maybe we’ll try Lord of the Rings. Maybe Twilight, though other than drinking “blood”, I’m not sure what we’d eat. Got any suggestions? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Star Wars Episode VII: Shut up and take my money


As my faithful readers may already know, I am a big Star Wars fan. In fact, the name of this blog is a quote from Star Wars; as the X-Wing fighters are approaching the Death Star, Luke’s friend Wedge (callsign: Red Two) says “Look at the size of that thing!” (meaning the Death Star) to which one of the leaders responds “Cut the chatter, red two!”

Given that, it may be surprising that it’s taken me this long to post something on the recent big news of Disney’s acquisition of LucasFilm, and the even bigger news of a new Star Wars movie on the horizon. No plot descriptions have been given, and I imagine the writing is still in its very early stages. But they do have a writer and producers, and now they’re talking about who’s going to direct it. While I don’t have any suggestions on who should be in it, who should direct it, or what it should be about, I do have a few requests:

  1. New main characters. If they want to bring Luke, Leia, Han Solo, and the gang back for the odd cameo or at the beginning to pass the torch, fine. But everyone is thirty years older than they were in Return of the Jedi. Hell, Mark Hamill was never that great an actor to begin with. I’m sure Harrison Ford could still pull it off, but do we really want a 70-year-old Han Solo as the star of the movie? So we need new characters. That said, making it about Luke’s kids and Han and Leia’s kids would be just too easy. If you want their kids in it as part of an ensemble cast, fine, but it can’t be just them.
  2. No Darth Vader. As awesome a character as he was, Vader died and was redeemed at the end of Return of the Jedi. His story is over. Move on.
  3. Disney should hire a bunch of people over the next 6-12 months and then announce the director and major cast members at a single press conference. Then they should shut the hell up about the movie until it’s close to ready. Don’t scatter press conferences every few months for the next three years, and definitely not for the non-major players – we don’t need a huge event to announce who the second unit assistant stunt coordinator will be. Don’t have a production blog where notes and pictures from the filming and post-production are posted daily – save all stuff that for the Special Edition Blu-Ray release. Super-die-hard fans like myself may like stuff like that, but there’s a limit to even the most ardent fan’s interest level. And don’t forget that for the majority of people, this will be just another movie. If there is constant news about this movie for two years before it’s released, people will get sick of hearing about it. And if they’re sick of hearing about it, they won’t go see it.

A small part of me doesn’t even want this movie made. The first six movies were the story of Anakin Skywalker (not Luke as we might have thought after the first three), and as I said that story line was concluded with Episode VI. So Episode VII will have to be an entirely new story line that happens to be set in the same galaxy far far away. I’m not sure that’s necessary.

Of course, the rest of me is giddy with anticipation. Gail and I were both huge Star Wars fans as children, and we saw each of Episodes I, II, and III on their opening days. Gail was 5 months pregnant for Episode I and 9 months pregnant for Episode II (Nicky was born less than 2 weeks later). I can’t guarantee we’ll be there opening day in 2015, but it won’t be long after – and assuming it’s in mid-May like the other six movies, we’ll likely have our fifteen-year-old and almost-thirteen-year-old Padawans with us.

You call him Doctah Jones


All movie series’ have their strong episodes and their weak ones. Many times the first one is much better than the sequels (The Matrix, Back to the Future, Pirates of the Carribbean, Men In Black, Jurassic Park) but not always. Star Wars was great, but The Empire Strikes Back was better, and I thought Return of the King was the best of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Star Trek movies have the “every other one is great” reputation, and it’s been surprisingly accurate so far (though I wasn’t a huge fan of IV – The Voyage Home). I thought all of the Harry Potter movies were really good, but some are still better than others.

There are lots of series where there is a huge gap between the quality of the good ones and the bad ones (i.e. make a very good movie and then make “whatever 2″ which sucks – Highlander comes to mind), but normally when there has been enough interest to make three or more movies, even the bad movies in the series aren’t terrible. The odd-numbered Star Trek movies weren’t as good as the even numbered ones, but they were still watchable. The Matrix, Pirates, and Men in Black sequels weren’t as good as the first, but still not bad. But the Indiana Jones series is unique among movie series because it has more than one movie that’s really good (Raiders, Last Crusade) and yet still has the huge gap in quality between the good ones and the bad ones (Temple of Doom, Crystal Skull). The good ones are really really good, while the bad ones are terrible.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

  • OK, the ancient Aztecs build a crazy cave with huge stone doors and stuff to protect this gold idol thing. Not totally out of the realm of possibility. But how did they build a mechanical light sensor? And what happens when it’s cloudy?
  • Anyone who can have that many tarantulas on his back and casually brush them off is, well, not me.
  • Indy jumps in his getaway plane and they fly off. Then he notices Reggie, the pilot’s pet snake. Obviously Indy knew nothing about Reggie, so he didn’t fly down to Peru in that plane. How did Indy get there and how did Reggie and the plane get there? Did Indy really hire an American to fly down to Peru separately to wait for him?
  • When we first see Marion, she’s in a drinking competition with someone in her bar. (To this day, I honestly don’t know if her competitor is a man or a woman.) She takes a shot and almost passes out, but then recovers and finishes the shot. When her competitor passes out, Marion starts cleaning up and is completely sober.
  • The DVD box set we have (of the first three movies) call this “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark”.

Great Line: “It’s not the years sweetheart, it’s the mileage.” Sums up Indiana Jones perfectly.
Creepy Scene: I first saw this movie when I was 12, and there are three scenes that I remember creeping me out: the famous face-melting scene at the end (which did more than just creep me out – it scared the crap out of me), the guy getting chopped up by the propeller, and the one shot of a big snake coming out of a skull’s mouth.
Overall: 5/5. Simply one of the best action-adventure movies ever.

Temple of Doom

  • For years, I’ve thought that the only reason Kate Capshaw was in this film was because she was married to Steven Spielberg. But I was wrong – they met on this movie and didn’t get married until later. This is actually worse than I thought, because it means that the casting people put her in the movie on purpose. They actually cast her based on her acting talent and not on nepotism, which calls into question their ability to judge talent. I didn’t think she was great acting-wise, and I hated the character. She just screamed and whined far too much.
  • Short Round was irritating and not funny in the slightest – the Jar Jar Binks of this series. There were parts where I wanted Indy to shoot him and Willie and let the bad guys live.
  • There was one scene where an elephant keeps putting his trunk on Willie’s shoulder and she keeps pushing it off. Then a huge snake slithers onto her shoulder and she grabs it and throws it away, the joke being that she thought it was the elephant again and didn’t know it was a snake. But this makes no sense – if she thought it was the elephant’s trunk, why would she grab it and throw it forward? Was she expecting to throw the entire elephant, or rip its trunk off?
  • Willie doesn’t want the live snakes for dinner, so she asks for “something simple, like soup?” Who asks for soup? Nobody, it’s a contrived plot device so they can give her eyeball soup.
  • They lower a metal cage with a person in it into molten lava and the person is burned away entirely, but the cage is neither damaged nor even hot when they pull it back up. What the heck is the cage made of?
  • Even in this terrible movie, Harrison Ford is really good. The bit in the room with the spiky ceiling where he mashes his face into the little window and enunciates “WE ARE GOING TO DIE” was very funny.

Great Line: When about to escape the clutches of the bad guy in a plane at the beginning, Indy says “Nice try, Lao Che!” right before closing the plane door. We then see that the door says “Lao Che Airways” on it.
Creepy Scene: Willie sticks her hand in a hole filled with every kind of bug imaginable. Bad dude sticks his hand inside the guy’s chest and pulls his heart out. Also, “Ah, dessert. Chilled monkey brains.”
Overall: 2/5. The story was lame, and all the characters except Indy were weak.

Last Crusade

  • As my wife and I say every time we see the beginning of this movie: River Phoenix. (Sigh) Such a waste.
  • Sean Connery was perfectly cast and he and Harrison Ford pulled off some great lines together. “I didn’t know you could fly a plane!” “Fly, yes. Land, no.” The bit where Indy asks him how he knew Elsa was a Nazi and he says “She talks in her sleep” and they look back and forth at each other is brilliant.
  • So the third brother has been living in this cave in Egypt for hundreds of years, drinking from the Holy Grail to keep himself alive that long. But by this time, he’s very frail. Has he stopped drinking from the Grail? Or do you still age and decline in health but never die? What kind of shape would he have been in if nobody had found the cave for another five hundred years? And never being able to leave the cave at all? Who would want to be immortal with those conditions?
  • I always thought that the actor that played Donovan was just not very good; some of his lines sounded really fake. While researching this article, I found out that he is an English actor doing an American accent. And not very well. He should talk to the House guy, or Apollo from Battlestar Galactica.
  • Speaking of fake accents, Indy’s fake Scottish accent at the castle in Germany is terrible. He sounds as Scottish as Dick Van Dyck does English. This may have been intentional.
  • Every time Sallah sees Indy, he tips his hat. Even when riding on a horse next to the tank trying to save his life.

Great Line: “He chose… poorly.”
Creepy Scene: Donovan’s death was a bit creepy, but not as bad as the other movies.
Overall: 4.5/5. Donovan should have been re-cast, but the rest of the film was great. I was glad that John Rhys-Davies returned as Sallah – he’s a great character.

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

  • Aliens? Really?
  • When they are in the storage warehouse looking for the ultra-magnetic thing, Indy drops little metal balls on the ground and they roll toward the magnetic thing. Later on, you notice the lights above all shifting towards it. Why haven’t the lights been shifting towards this thing for however long it’s been there? If they have, then every hanging light in the place should point directly at it so there’s no need for the metal balls at all. And if it’s that powerful, the bullets that he pulled the metal balls from should just roll towards it – no need to break them open. Plus once they recover the skull and carry it all over South America, it doesn’t seem to be magnetic anymore.
  • Indiana Jones says “nuclear” as “nucular”.
  • The whole “surviving a nuclear blast in a fridge” scene is silly and unnecessary.
  • The Australian dude that was Indy’s friend, then was working with the Russians, then said he was a double-agent, then was a bad guy again didn’t seem to be necessary either.
  • What  mother would sit back and watch her teenage son swordfight with a Russian spy while standing on a moving jeep?
  • A Peruvian native is about to shoot a blow dart at Mutt when Indy jumps in front of him and blows in the pipe the other way. Wouldn’t the guy get hit in the throat with the back of the dart and thus not be poisoned? It would still hurt, and might still kill him, but he wouldn’t just immediately die.

Great Line: No great line for this one – I haven’t seen the movie often enough to remember any.
Creepy Scene: Ants.
Overall: 3/5. Better than Temple of Doom, but not by much. All of the Indy stories strain credulity and there’s a fair bit of suspension of disbelief, and I’m OK with that. This one, however, went way overboard – to the extent that “nuking the fridge” is a thing now, similar to “jumping the shark”. I like Shia Labeouf, but I didn’t think Cate Blanchett or Karen Allen were all that great.

 

And now they’ve announced Indiana Jones 5. I’m not sure whether I’m looking forward to it or not; seems like it will either be fantastic or terrible. Hopefully it follows the “odd-numbered Indy movies are great” rule.